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Opioids still a problem

For a year now, we have been placing a lot of emphasis on the COVID-19 pandemic as we go about our daily lives.

We’ve been avoiding crowds, wearing masks, conducting meetings and other interactions across numerous video chat programs, wiping down everything that can be touched with disinfectants and going through gallon after gallon of hand sanitizer, all while waiting for the vaccines to become available.

There probably are few among us whose lives have not been touched — it’s likely you, a relative or someone you know has tested positive or had to endure the suffering the coronavirus has brought on.

It’s been so easy to get caught up in all of the restrictions, regulations and everything else that we’ve been faced with during the last year that we can forget there are other health-related issues and concerns all around us.

And that, according to Ohio Attorney General Dave Yost, can lead to other issues.

“Opioid overdoses might have taken a backseast in our minds last year because of COVID-19, but make no mistake: Ohioans are dying at a devastating rate because of opioid overdoses,” Yost said on Monday.

His comments came as part of release from his office that offered up a sad fact: More Ohioans died of an opioid overdose during the second quarter of 2020 than at any time since the epidemic began.

Yost’s report showed that the opioid overdose death rate in the state for the second quarter of 2020 was 11.01 per 100,000 residents. And that was the highest rate in 10 years, topping the 10.87 opioid overdoses per 100,000 residents that were recorded in the first quarter of 2017.

All of those numbers are based on data collected from the Ohio Department of Health and analyzed by the Scientific Committee on Opioid Prevention and Education. Overall, they are not good.

According to Yost’s numbers, Scioto County in the southern part of the state had the highest rate for the quarter at 35.22 overdose deaths per 100,000 people. Fayette County had the second-highest total at 20.67. Franklin County was third at 19.43, while Ross County had a rate of 19.22 and Galia County had a rate of 19.4.

Closer to our region, Trumbull County saw a rate of 17.12 and Mahoning County had a rate of 15.49.

“This is alarming data,” Yost continued. “And while COVID has rightfully captured our attention, we cannot lose sight of the threat the opioid epidemic brings to all areas of Ohio.”

That includes the counties that surround us.

Jefferson County’s rate per 100,000 residents stood at 7.17 during the second quarter of 2020, while Harrison County’s rate stood at 12.61. In Columbiana County, the number was 6.49. Belmont County saw a rate of 4.26 while Carroll County recorded a zero.

Those numbers are significantly different from the statistics recorded during the comparable period in 2010. Ten years earlier, the rate was zero in Jefferson, Harrison, Carroll and Columbiana counties and 1.42 in Belmont County.

Our region’s numbers mirrored the state’s in 2017, when Harrison County’s rate was 12.61 per 100,000 residents. Jefferson County’s rate stood at 8.61, Carroll County’s rate was 6.94, Columbiana County’s rate was 6.49 and Belmont County’s rate was 4.26.

Those statistics were released on Monday, just a few hours before a bipartisan coalition led by West Virginia Attorney General Patrick Morrisey and New Mexico Attorney General Hector Balderas announced it was asking for a progress report to detail steps taken by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration to combat the opioid crisis. Yost was among the 48 attorneys general who signed the letter.

“We have witnessed firsthand the devastation that the opioid epidemic has wrought on states in terms of lives lost and the costs it has imposed on our health care system and the broader economy,” Morrisey wrote.

“As the chief legal officers of our states, we are committed to using all tools at our disposal to combat this epidemic and to protect patients suffering from chronic pain or addiction, who are among the most vulnerable consumers in our society.”

That information, Yost said, will help to reduce prescription opioid abuse and accidental deaths.

It’s important that we stay safe while the COVID-19 issues continue to swirl around us, but we shouldn’t become so caught up that we lose sight of the other fights that are going on around us, and the numbers released last week offer us just such a reminder.

“While dealing with a worldwide pandemic, we are still fighting an opioid epidemic that continues to wreak havoc,” Yost said.

“I am committed to using all the tools available to combat opioid addictions and save lives.”

(Gallabrese, a resident of Steubenville, is executive editor of the Herald-Star and The Weirton Daily Times.)

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